Category: Alumni

Brad King: Space, Satellites and Students

Pictured: the Auris signal trace, soon to be explained by Dr. Lyon (Brad) King on Husky Bites.

Lyon (Brad) King shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 18 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Oculus deployed! In June 2019 Michigan Tech alumnus and Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems Engineer Jesse Olson, left, celebrates with Aerospace Enterprise advisor Brad King. King’s son Jack was also on hand for the momentous occasion of the launch.

Turning dreams into reality is a powerful motivator for Lyon (Brad) King. He’s the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and leader of Michigan Tech Aerospace—a collection of research, development, and educational labs dedicated to advancing spacecraft technology.

King specializes in spacecraft propulsion — and the launching of student careers. He mentors a large team of graduate students in his research lab, the Ion Space Propulsion Lab, where teams develop next-generation plasma thrusters for spacecraft. Off campus, at the MTEC SmartZone, King is cofounder and CEO of the fast-growing company, Orbion Space Technology.

As the founder and faculty advisor of Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft, too. One of the team’s student-built satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2021, and a third (Auris) now in process.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies.”

Professor Lyon (Brad) King, Michigan Tech

King has served as the Enterprise advisor ever since a couple of students came to him with the idea to form a team nearly two decades ago. “My current role now is more that of an outside evaluator,” he says. “The team has taken on a life of its own.”

Like all Enterprise teams at Michigan Tech, Aerospace Enterprise is open to students in any major. “It’s important for students to learn how to work in an interdisciplinary group,” says King. “In the workplace, they will never be on a team where every member has the same expertise. To design, build, manage and operate a satellite requires mechanical, electrical, computer science, physics, materials, everything — it really crosses a lot of boundaries and prepares them for a career.”

Adds King: “Michigan Tech has a history and reputation for hands-on projects, particularly its Enterprise Program. Our students don’t just write papers and computer programs. They know how to turn wrenches and build things. That’s been deeply ingrained in the University culture for years.” 

Last, but not least: “Aerospace Enterprise has a leadership and management hierarchy that is self-sustaining,” says King. “Current leaders are constantly working to mentor their successors so we have continuity from year-to-year.” 

“Dr. King provides excellent mentoring and high-level direction, but does not give students all the answers. It’s up to the students to figure it out. We work in small teams, which forces us to take on more responsibility. We’re thrown off the deep end. It’s hard, but worth it.”

Sam Baxendale, spoken as a former student. He’s now an engineer at Orbion Space Technologies
The Aerospace Enterprise team at Michigan Tech enjoys some well-deserved downtime at McLain State Park on Lake Superior.

The New Space Era

Commercialization is driving aerospace expansion in Michigan and across the nation. “We were ahead of it,” says King. “We certainly were feeding it and played a part in causing it. MTU’s products — which are our graduates — are out there, making this happen.” Aerospace Enterprise alumni are engineers, managers, technology officers and research scientists in a diverse array of aerospace-related industries and institutions, from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and NASA to SpaceX, both startups and major manufacturers. King himself has hired several of his former students at Orbion Space Technology.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me,” says Lyon (Brad) King, Henes Professor of Space Systems at Michigan Technological University

Q: When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

A: I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: I was born and raised just north of Houghton (yes, there actually is some habitable environment north of Houghton). I received my BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Michigan. I spent time traveling around the country working at NASA in Houston, NIST in Boulder, and realized that all of my personal hobbies and proclivities were centered around the geography and climate of northern Michigan. I returned in 2000 and began my career as a professor at MTU. I enjoy fishing, boating, hockey, and spent more than 15 years running my dogsled team all over the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Michigan Tech’s Three Student-Built Satellites

OCULUS-ASR, a microsatellite now in orbit, provides new info to the Air Force. “It is the first satellite mission dedicated to helping telescope observatories understand what they are imaging using a cooperative target. “It’s a very capable little vehicle. There’s a lot packed into it.”

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of Stratus, a miniaturized satellite developed by the team. It will be launched from the International Space Station in March 2021.

Not hard to see how CubeSats get their name. Stratus is a 3U spacecraft, which means it’s composed of three units. This photo was taken in fall 2019.

STRATUS, a miniaturized satellite, will image atmospheric clouds to reconcile climate models. It’s funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. STRATUS will be carried to the International Space Station inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule by a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon will dock to the ISS where STRATUS will be unloaded by the crew. STRATUS will then be placed in the Kibo Module’s airlock, where the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System robotic arm will move the satellite into the correct position and deploy it into space. All this on March 21. Stay tuned!

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of its newest microsatellite, Auris, now in the works.

AURIS, a microsatellite, is designed to monitor and attribute telecommunications signals in a congested space environment. Funding comes from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL)’s University Nanosatellite Program.

Huskies in Space

Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise team designed their own logo.

Learn more about the team and its missions on Instagram and Facebook.

Find out how to join.

Read more about Aerospace Enterprise in Michigan Tech News:

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student Satellite Set to Launch in 2021

Enterprise at MTU Launches Spacecraft—and Careers

Countdown. Ignition. Liftoff. Huskies in Space!

Mission(s) AccomplishedMichigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit


Engineering Alumni Activity Summer 2020

Eric Charette
Eric Charette

Michigan Tech alumnus Eric J. Charette was featured in the story “Grid modernization means adapting and evolving to meet the challenges of the future,” in Power Grid International. Charette graduated from Michigan Tech with a BS in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Systems. He serves as Executive Technical Manager of Business Development for Utilities with Hexagon.

Audrey Yazdanparast
Audrey Yazdanparast

An article by Timothy Havens (CC) and Sakineh “Audrey” Yazdanparast (’19 PhD electrical engineering), “Linear Time Community Detection by a Novel Modularity Gain Acceleration in Label Propagation,” has been accepted for publication in the journal IEEE Transactions on Big Data. The paper presents an efficient approach for detecting self-similar communities in weighted graphs, with applications in social network analysis, online commodity recommendation systems, user clustering, biology, communications network analysis, etc.

HongWen Zhang
HongWen Zhang

Michigan Tech alumnus HongWen Zhang will give a presentation at the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) Packaging Technology Integration Group (TIG) digital meeting on Wednesday. Zhang is R&D Manager of Alloy Group. The story was featured on I-Connect 007. Zhang has a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical physical chemistry from Central South University of China, a master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Science, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and a PhD in materials science and engineering from Michigan Tech.

Steve Thorburn
Steve Thorburn

Michigan Tech alumnus Steve Thorburn is the recipient of the Fred Dixon Service in Education Award from the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA). The story was covered by AV Network. Thorburn had dual degrees in electrical engineering and technical theatre.

Michigan Tech alumnus Charles L. Marshall, BS electrical engineering, has been named vice president of Transmission Planning for ITC Holdings Corp. The story was covered in Yahoo Finance and  Benzinga. With a longstanding career at ITC, Mr. Marshall’s responsibilities have ranged from regulatory policy and stakeholder relations to project engineering and business unit planning.

Laura and Nate Gentry
Laura and Nate Gentry

Michigan Tech Alumni Laura and Nate Gentry ’05, were mentioned in the article “‘Heal the Zeel’ campaign rallies community support” in Rapid Growth. The couple owns Tripelroot Restaurant and Brewpub in Zeeland. They have created a menu of “Stay at Home” specials that incorporates ingredients grown by local suppliers. Nate has a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Laura has a BA in Liberal Arts.

Greg Ives
Greg Ives

Greg Ives hasn’t stepped foot on Michigan Tech’s campus since receiving his bachelor’s degree in December 2003. But during the coronavirus pandemic, Ives, a Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series crew chief for Alex Bowman, suddenly found the time to think back on his days in Houghton. Auto racing is the science of engineering coupled with the art and skill of driving. Ives, who studied mechanical engineering at Tech, said he’s been overseeing both elements of his Hendrick Motorsports team while working from home.


John Gierke: How the Rocks Connect Us

Pictured: Hungarian Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Credit: Jessica Rich, a Michigan Tech graduate and member of the MTU Geology Club

John Gierke shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 11 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

John Gierke stands with water behind him, on the shore of Portage Canal.
Water was John Gierke’s first love growing up. Now he is Professor and Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech, specializing in hydrogeology. Here he stands at the shore of Portage Canal, on campus.

A self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks,” John Gierke chairs the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (GMES) at Michigan Technological University. He’s also an alumnus, earning a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

Q: How do the rocks connect us?

A: The geology of the Keweenaw and Western Upper Peninsula is quite unique and different than the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. The geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place. While geologists are knowledgeable in identifying rocks, their truest natures are also wrapped in a yearning to be outdoors, exceptional observation skills, and insatiable curiosity to understand Earth processes. The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us–and shaped our landscapes–are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.

Q: When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

A: I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: Growing up I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River throughout the year. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring-summer-fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the EUP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). I now live on a blueberry farm that is open to the public in August for U-Pick. I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer.

Want to know more about Husky Bites? Read about it here.


Husky Bites: Join Us for Supper This Summer (Mondays at 6)!

A real Husky Dog sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth, with a plate and bowl full of dog biscuits in front of it The dog is wearing a red and black checked flannel shirt, and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses

Craving some brain food? Join Dean Janet Callahan and a special guest each Monday at 6 p.m. EST for a new, 20-minute interactive Zoom webinar from the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University, followed by Q&A. Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity). All are welcome. Get the full scoop and register⁠—it’s free⁠—at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The special guests: A dozen engineering faculty have each volunteered to present a mini lecture for Husky Bites. They’ll weave in a bit of their own personal journey to engineering, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Callahan. “We’re aiming to make it very interactive, with a “quiz” (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. “Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. We are hoping entire families will enjoy it,” she adds. “We have prizes, too, for near perfect attendance!”

Topics include: Space, Satellites, and Students; Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots; A Quieter Future (Acoustics); Geospatial Wizardry; Color-Changing Potions and Magical Microbes; Scrubbing Water, There’s Materials Science and Engineering, in my Golf Bag, Biomedical Engineering the Future, How Do Machines Learn, Robotics, Math in Motion, and more. Get the full scoop and register (it’s free) at mtu.edu/huskybites

The series kicks off on Monday, May 11 with a session from GMES professor and chair John Gierke, a self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks.”

In his Husky Bites session, “How the Rocks Connect Us,” Gierke will talk about how the geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. “The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place,” he says. “The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us and shaped our landscapes are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.” Gierke was born in the EUP (the Soo, aka Sault Sainte Marie) and graduated from Michigan Tech. He will provide practical explanations for why the mines are oriented as they are, where water is more prevalent—and the geological features that lead to waterfalls. You can read all about it here.

Other guests on Husky Bites include engineering faculty L. Brad King, Gordon Parker, Rebecca Ong, Guy Meadows, Andrew Barnard, Tony Pinar, Daisuke Minakata, Jeremy Bos, Joe Foster, Smitha Rao, and Steve Kampe.

Want to see the full schedule? Just go to mtu.edu/huskybites. You can register from there, too.


Did You Sign Your Name on This Door?

Now, I live close to campus, in a stately banker’s home on Houghton Avenue.

We bought Mrs. Frim’s house (Mrs. Frimodig) in 2018. At one point, the home had been famously rented out to Michigan Tech alumni, many who signed their names on the attic door. Widowed after Mr. Frim unexpectedly passed at an early age, Mrs. Frim earned a living in this way.

Roger Smith, an engineering alumnus who grew up in Houghton, weeded for Mrs. Frim as a young man. I met him at Reunion 2018; he relayed to me that “She had a nice side garden in the south-east backyard – with lots of gladiolas. I spent a lot of hours toiling there…at 15-25 cents an hour!”

Sadly, that poor side garden has turned into goutweed heaven—an invasive species. I started attacking it yesterday. I read that I can “exhaust it,” or dig it up! So I exhausted myself digging it up and only made a small start; it will take the next two years to recover that patch of garden. Ha-ha, says the goutweed…. 

Did any of you happen to carve your name on the attic door? If so, please let me know! Take a look at all five panels, for a closer look. Maybe you’ll see someone you know!

If you find your name, or know more about this door, please email me. I would love to hear the stories; callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech




Earth Day Continues! All are Welcome at these Copper Country (social-distance friendly) Special Events

Historical sign once hung on posts at the entrance to the city of Houghton, Michigan that says, Welcoome to the Copper country. You are now breathing the purest most vitalizing air on earth!
Courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives

There are still many Earth Day events coming up in Copper Country, and no matter where you live on this Earth, you’re invited. All are welcome.

  • Get Some Fresh Air: Nature is Open for Business
    Now through May 10 — Self-guided walk featuring Earth Day artwork from Houghton Elementary 4th grade students at Keweenaw Land Trust Paavola Wetlands. Can’t get there in person? Here’s the video tour.
  • Planet of the Humans
    April 21 and beyond: View “Planet of the Humans” (90 min.)  The film takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and giving in to corporate interests of Wall Street.
  • Invasive Plant Removal Challenge
    Now through June 20 — Stewardship Network Spring Invasive Plant Removal Challenge. Pull invasive species from your yard, natural area, anywhere. Submit location, number of people, and weight of invasive plants removed.
  • Great Lakes Bioblitz!
    Now through – May 20 — Great Lakes Bioblitz in your Backyard. Community members, families, and students across the Great Lakes states and Ontario are invited to participate in finding and identifying as many wild, living things as possible in a specific area (backyards and other outdoor spaces) during the next month
  • How Some are Turning the Stay at Home Order into a Positive Experience
    Saturday (April 25) from 6-8 p.m. — UPEC 2020 Celebrate the U.P. Presentations will be available later on YouTube. Speakers include Monica Lewis-Patrick, We The People of Detroit; Sarah Green, International Climate Action; Angie Carter, Western UP Food Systems Council, and several more. The event will wrap up with short videos on how some have turned the Stay at Home order into a positive experience.
  • What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables
    April 28, 7-8 p.m. — “What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables?” with Eagle Waste & Recycling owner, Alan Alba, and sponsored by Copper Country Recycling Initiative.
  • Native Plant Symposium: Monarch Butterflies
    April 30, 7 p.m. Native Plant Symposium Part 2, Sue Trull, botanist for the Ottawa Nat. Forest, will present “Monarchs & Milkweeds—All Hands-on Deck,” and “Using Native Plants to Support Pollinators” by Jackie Manchester-Kempke, of Houghton, an extension master gardener. Register here.
  • Book Club: Nature’s Best Hope
    May 7, 7 p.m.— Keweenaw Land Trust’s Natural History. Book Club discussion of Doug Tallamy’s “Nature’s Best Hope” via Zoom. (Password: 703851)
  • Five things you can keep out of the landfill:
    June 27  — (Stay tuned) The previously scheduled Waste Reduction Drive for Earth Day, sponsored by Michigan Tech’s student-run Sustainability House, will be rescheduled. In the meantime, keep collecting Styrofoam containers, plastic bottle caps, batteries and foil lined granola and energy bar wrappers. Read how they can be recycled here.

Mechanical Engineer Turned Fine Artist: Gary Johnson (Part 2)

Gary Johnson, a Michigan Tech alumnus in Fayetteville Arkansas, tells the story of his second career: “It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look, and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work.”

When it comes to the abstract, my inspiration develops as I develop the painting. I always try to utilize the design principles of good balance between geometric and curvilinear shapes, development of value change throughout the painting, and a good use of complementary colors. But it’s all in the eye of the beholder whether you like it or not.

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson
Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson

Other times I get inspired by just items around the house that we’ve collected over the years. It dawned on me that I hadn’t painted a still life piece in quite a while, so I started looking at some china pieces we collected and thought they’d make a wonderful painting.

Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson
Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson

Sometimes it isn’t so much that inspiration finds me, as much as it is that someone commissions a painting. Now that is the ultimate compliment: when someone has seen my work and trusts me to paint something they treasure. This requires a lot of careful consideration on my part to make a determination if I’m up to the task. First, I need a good photograph—not some pixelated picture, but a really good piece I can blow up as if I were right there to see it all with my own eyes. If I can take the photograph myself, so much the better as I like to take advantage of any shadows cast. Here’s one–a portrait of a dog named Maximus.

Portraits are difficult. My advice is this: always make sure you get the eyes right. Everything else from there will work out.

Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016
Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016

People ask where I paint. We designed our home with a studio in it. This makes it so much more convenient for me as I can wander up anytime during the day or night to work on a painting.

My studio is on the second floor of our house. When I decide I’m too old to walk up and down those stairs (18 in all, and yes, I counted them) it can easily be converted into a master suite or a mother in-law-suite as it has a closet and bathroom next to it. After all, watercolorists need water and a place to rinse out the brushes among other things. It’s approximately 300 square feet—a comfortable size to house my good old-fashioned drafting table, flat files, and shelving units needed to support my habit.

The artist in his studio.
The artist in his studio.

I’m sometimes asked about my outlook on life as an artist. Is it different than my outlook as an engineer/business executive? To be honest, it isn’t much different. I suppose now that I’m retired, I want to be sure I’m alive long enough to achieve some of my long-range goals. Goal setting is something I’ve always done, so not much change there.

I don’t have a concern about what my next job or position might be now that I’m a retired artist. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference from the working world. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.

Snack Time, Gary Johnson
Snack Time, Gary Johnson

Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have. That’s when I usually put the brushes aside and start to read and study another person’s work. It’s also good to make a change in my daily activity as well, to not get stuck in a rut, so to speak. Variety is the spice of life and that is true for artists as well. Change it up. Go fishing. Get outside. You’d be surprised how quickly new ideas can pop up to jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again.

Am I a perfectionist? Not really. I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving. When I make an error, I consider it a happy accident and work around it, as opposed to trying to do it over again, or trying to fix it. Neither work well in watercolor painting.

Personality-wise, I’m pretty much an optimist and a fairly outgoing person. I suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while managing companies and people. I enjoy making new contacts and I enjoy giving back to my community. That’s why I’ve become a teacher of art, and a leader in our art organization here in Fayetteville. I hope I’ve influenced people to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. I’m still working in it, although people are starting to recognize my abstract pieces more and more as I display them at galleries in the area. More people now say they can easily recognize a piece as one of mine.

A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson
A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson

Realistically, I think my style is still evolving, growing into a less-structured, photographic type of painting—a looser style that I personally love. It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work, as opposed to making it obvious.

Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson
Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson

I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me at garyj357@yahoo.com.

Gary

Coming soon: Part 3 of Gary’s guest blog. Learn how to make your own beautiful watercolor pigments (from rocks), and read his sage adviceboth to young people starting out, and those about to move into retirement. Did you happen to miss Part 1? Here’s the link. Want to see more of Gary’s paintings? Find them at garyjohnsonfineart.com


Michigan Tech Engineer Captures the Northern Lights

North Canal Park, April 2019. Credit: Michigan Tech Alumnus Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Some of us have waited a decade or more to see the Northern Lights since moving to Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Then there’s Venkata Rajesh Chundru, now a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. While earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech from 2014 to 2019, Chundru managed to see—and artfully capture—Aurora Borealis time after time. And he has generously offered to share some of his favorite photographs with us here.

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, September 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

McLain State Park, February 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, May 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Copper Harbor, March 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, May 2019. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Michigan Tech Campus, Canal Side, February 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

The photographer at Copper Peak, September 2018. Thank you, Venkata! We wish you the very best of luck in your new home!

“Since moving to Texas I have been capturing cityscapes and doing some professional portrait sessions for events, while soaking in the Texan culture. These photographs bring back a lot of good memories from all those years in the U.P. I do intend to be back during summer for a week to capture some landscapes,” says Chundru. “Life in San Antonio has more of an urban feel. I miss the wide-open landscapes and warm people back in the U.P, and of course the snow.

“In my new job at Southwest Research Institute, I’m focused on developing control systems for automotive applications—specifically to control emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which is in line with my Ph.D. work at Michigan Tech. I also get to work on new research areas, such as connected vehicles and electric vehicle controls.”

As for COVID-19? “Stay safe out there,” he says. “Hope this passes soon.”

Want to see more beautiful photography? Be sure to visit Chundru’s photography page on Facebook, or his Instagram account.

Have some of your own Aurora Borealis images to share? Please reach out to Kimberly Geiger, kmgeiger@mtu.edu. If you like, we’d be glad to post them here on our blog.


Michigan Tech Engineering Alumni: By the Numbers

UP Blizzard, Winter, 1938. Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives.

“Tenacious problem solving and critical thinking skills distinguish our alumni,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech.

“And yes, there must be something about the relentless snow in Houghton that contributes to tenacity,” adds Callahan. “Like tea steeping in hot water, our alumni were soaked in snow, emerging with the flavor of tenacity.”

QUICK FACTS:

  • Engineering Alumni Total: 47,359
  • Engineering Alumni in Michigan: 17,000+
  • Engineering Alumni Abroad: 1,200+ in 88 countries
  • U.S. employers hiring our engineering graduates in 2018: 500+
  • Average engineering graduate starting salary: over $61,000/year
  • High Alumni Salaries: second highest in the state
  • Engineering Alumni by Academic Department:
  • Biomedical Engineering: 838
  • Chemical Engineering: 4,491
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering: 9,132
  • Engineering: 71
  • Electrical & Computer Engineering: 10,112
  • Engineering Fundamentals: 194
  • Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences: 3,984
  • Materials Science and Engineering: 3,246
  • Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics: 15,291

Check out all the Michigan Tech Facts and Figures here.

Have some alumni facts to share? Reach out to us at engineering@mtu.edu.


I Was Asked to Be a Judge for Winter Carnival

Riley Simpson wears formal attire, a silver crown, and holds flowers and an award on stage at Michigan Tech Rozsa Center.
Asked to be a judge for Carnival Queen this year, I accepted with alacrity. And probably became the first judge ever to ask all the candidates a metallurgical question involving the lever rule—a question I knew no-one would know the answer to (none were materials science and engineering majors, who would have the best shot at knowing the answer). The object of the question was focused on critical thinking.

The Saturday morning before Carnival Week was day one of my judging. In my training, I was told I could ask any questions I wanted, and was given a set of standard questions to choose from. 

“Any questions?” I repeated?”

“Yes, anything you want—just ask everyone the same questions.” 

I warmed them up with a few standard questions: “Why do you want to be Carnival Queen,” and “Why did you choose to come to Michigan Tech,” and then stepped right into it, by going to the board and drawing a banana-shaped phase diagram, labeling the axes, temperature versus component (we used a gold/silver phase diagram).

I warmed them up to it by talking about how a pure component below its melting point was solid, and then after it was heated past its melting point, it was liquid. And then I explained how with a binary alloy with soluble components, the extra component adds a degree of freedom to the system. And that in turn gives such alloys a range of temperatures over which both liquid and solid are present. Then, I identified a state point in this two-phase region, just below the liquidus for a 50/50 alloy, and asked: “At this temperature and composition, we see there is both liquid and solid present. My question is: Do you think the mixture will be mostly liquid, or mostly solid?”

A few candidates asked clarifying questions, a few reasoned out loud. And, as I had hoped, given how we really stress critical thinking across all majors, all got the answer right. When I followed up and asked them why they thought it would be mostly liquid, the reasoning was sound—they tied it in with proximity to the liquidus or to the point being at a higher temperature. Very proud of all the Queen’s Finalists!  
Riley Simpson is shown smiling in her AFROTC uniform.
Congrats to Riley Simpson ⁠— 4th year mechanical engineering student, future commissioned second lieutenant (pending) in the United States Air Force, pilot/aviation enthusiast ⁠— and now, 2020 Winter Carnival Queen at Michigan Tech
Riley Simpson: Impeccable and inspirational at the Michigan Tech Winter Carnival Queen Coronation.

The second judging event took place the following Saturday night, during the Coronation. That evening, I enjoyed seeing all the candidates again, this time formal attire. They answered questions up on stage with last year’s Queen—a much higher pressure situation than I think I put them under! All of the finalists did a great job, and I am pleased to report that this year’s Carnival Queen is a Guardian of the North, Riley Simpson, whose passion is for flying, and whose musical talent was evidenced by an elegant and lively performance on the xylophone.

Riley is a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student and member of the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise who will be commissioned as an Air Force officer when she graduates, and I’m confident she will go far in her career.

It was my great honor to meet all these confident, intelligent, talented, and service-oriented Winter Carnival Queen’s finalists. My last interview question, back on that first Saturday, was, “Do you have any questions for me?” It was immediately evident that they had not anticipated being asked to ask a question (I was mimicking a job interview). And, they all rallied, and with a variety of questions, such as, “Why did you come to Michigan Tech,” and “What does a dean do?” My favorite question came from one candidate who asked me, “Did you ever do anything like this (meaning, run to be Carnival Queen)? “Oh my goodness no!” I exclaimed. “It took me many years to get the confidence to be in the public eye.” It took me about an additional two decades!

Now, if you’re interested in learning the answer to the question I asked the Winter Carnival Queen contestants, “mostly liquid or mostly solid”—or want to hazard a guess, feel free to contact me, callahan@mtu.edu.
Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech